Human rights and hacktivism: The cases of wikileaks and anonymous

Tom Sorell

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Traditional human rights concepts seem to fit Internet activity when it is broadly allied to conventional political mobilization and when it occurs in human rights-violating jurisdictions. Traditional concepts are strained, however, when Internet activity takes the unconventional form of 'hacktivism', and it occurs in human-rights respecting jurisdictions. Hacktivism is still activism but not always open or democratic activism. Unlike more familiar forms of activism, hacktivism can often be anonymous, sometimes gratuitously so, and can operate with a kind of impunity that its technology seems to afford. Hacktivism is sometimes also claimed to serve interests that transcend those of particular states, that is, the interests of the global population generally. But this claim is implausible if hacktivism is not accountable to anyone. Taking the cases of Wikileaks and Anonymous, I argue that some of the activities of these groups are highly questionable, and that forms of cyberactivism more strongly connected with public displays of protest and legally accountable disclosure are morally superior and cohere better with human rights. This line of thought is, admittedly, easier to articulate in the case of Wikileaks than in the case of Anonymous, whose free-form set of causes and swarm activity are not always attributable to a stable collective entity. The activities of these two groups are chosen for four reasons: because they are both prominent in hacktivism; because they together represent quite a lot of the spectrum of hacktivism; because they have operated at times in concert, and because, in the case of Wikileaks at least, the rationale for its activity is sometimes stated in the language of human rights.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-410
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Human Rights Practice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Anonymity
  • Cyberactivism
  • Freedom of expression
  • Impunity

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